Graham Kilmer

Northwestern Mutual Announces Investment Fund for Black Startups

Also, a partnership with gener8tor on an accelerator for Black startups.

By - Nov 19th, 2020 04:51 pm
Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Northwestern Mutual recently announced its commitment to invest $20 million in startups founded by Black entrepreneurs.

These investments will be managed by the company’s venture-capital fund, Future Ventures, which is partnering with gener8tor on an accelerator for startups founded by Black entrepreneurs.

Former Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele is a significant investor in gener8tor.

The $20 million and the accelerator are intended for companies that meet the “investment priorities” of Northwestern Mutual’s Future Ventures fund. The firm describes these “strategic areas of focus” as “Building for consumers’ changing financial preferences”, “Reimagining the client experience”, “The digital health revolution” and “Transformational analytics and technologies.”

The fund is looking to invest in companies where at least one founder, or the CEO, and at least 20% of equity ownership identifies as Black or African-American.

The promotional materials from NWM and gener8tor both noted that less than 1% of funding from venture capital outfits goes to Black-founded startups. The Washington Post has reported this statistic as well, noting it comes from a study by Silicon Valley Bank, a commercial bank based in California.

Similarly, a study called ProjectDiane initiated by investor Kathryn Finney found that only .2% of all venture capital funding went to startups founded by Black women. And another study by Deloitte and the National Venture Capital Association showed only 2% of investment professionals were black.

James Norman, the founder and CEO of Pilotly, wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “If you’ve only spent 1% of VC dollars, if we can only find 227 venture-backed Black companies (while more than 9,000 companies were funded in 2018), you can be sure that you have not even funded the best of us yet.”

It is in this vein, that the $20 million in venture funding and the accelerator were announced.

“Innovative thinking is required to drive breakthrough solutions to close the racial equity gap, and by supporting Black founders through Northwestern Mutual Future Ventures and the new accelerator program in partnership with gener8tor, we can make a difference to close this funding gap,” Abim Kolawole, vice president, digital innovation, said in a statement announcing the endeavors.

The accelerator is the first one from NWM and gener8tor that exclusively focuses on Black-founded startups. It’s a 12-week program, with two rounds a year investing $100,000 each into 10 companies annually.

At least one founder in the startup will be in Milwaukee for the accelerator, with access to offices at Cream City Labs — NWM’s co-working space. And it will offer mentorship and coaching from gener8tor staff, industry experts and investors.

John Grogan, NWM chief product and innovation officer, said the firm will continue to fund and provide resources to Black startups, saying “$20 million is only the beginning.”

Categories: Business, Economics, Weekly

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